Understanding inquest proceeding and how it differs with preliminary investigation may spell the difference between liberty and a night or two behind bars.
The Supreme Court in a 2006 administrative case clarifies that preliminary investigation is a proceeding distinct from an inquest. A preliminary investigation is "an inquiry or proceeding to determine whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial."
An inquest is "a summary inquiry conducted by a prosecutor for the purpose of determining whether the warrantless arrest of a person was based on probable cause."
Where the penalty prescribed by law for an offense is at least four years, two months and one day of imprisonment without regard to the fine, a preliminary investigation must be conducted before the filing of a complaint or information for such offense. The conduct of an inquest investigation does not fulfill the requirement for the conduct of a preliminary investigation before the filing of an information or complaint involving any such offenses, except when the accused was lawfully arrested without a warrant. (Enriquez case)
The DOJ Manual for Prosecutors defines inquest as an “informal and summary investigation conducted by the public prosecutor in criminal cases involving persons arrested and detained without the benefit of a warrant of arrest issued by the court for the purpose of determining whether or not such persons should remain under custody and correspondingly be charged in court.”
Under the Rules of Court, Rule 113, Section 5, a warrantless arrest is lawful under three circumstances:
1. When, in the presence of the policeman, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;
2. When an offense has just been committed, and he has probable cause to believe, based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances, that the person to be arrested has committed it; and
3. When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment.
Under the said DOJ Manual, the City or Provincial Prosecutor usually assigns fiscals as inquest officers on a rotation basis. The list of their names and schedule is given to the chief of police for proper coordination.
The inquest proceedings starts when the inquest officer receives from the arresting officers the following: affidavit of arrest, the investigation report, the affidavits of the complainant and his witnesses, and other evidence gathered at the course of investigation. As a general rule, the arrested person must be made physically present.
The inquest officer may order the release of the detained person when the documents are incomplete (and the lacking documents are not submitted on time), or recommend his release when there is no valid warrantless arrest or when there is no probable cause.